Playing to Your Strengths Is Not Always What It is Cracked Up to Be

December 27th, 2008 by | Print


Okay, let me explain what I mean by that and you are welcome to disagree! Many who know me have heard me say that you should outsource those tasks that you hate to do and don’t do well (or even those tasks you do well but hate to do).

But what if something you’re really passionate about doesn’t turn into a strength until you give it the discipline, effort, and devotion to turn it into something you’re eventually great at? After all, many people like this quote:

People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most people succeed because they are determined to.”

–George E. Allen

While I applaud the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment–the first one that was outlined in Now Discover Your Strengths was great, but this one is much better!–I read something in the accompanying book by Tom Rath that actually hit a nerve.

Do you remember the story of Rudy Ruettiger, the young, groundskeeper at Notre Dame’s stadium? His physique wasn’t quite the football flavor, and he certainly didn’t have a natural talent for football. He spent most of his days overcoming a weakness by practicing and practicing and practicing and eventually triumphed.

Rath implies that those days could’ve been better spent focusing on strengthening a strength rather than overcoming a weakness. His maxim is: “You cannot be anything you want to be–but you can be a lot more of who you already are” versus the familiar, “You can be anything you want to be if you just try hard enough.”

But what about the psychological benefits during the journey–especially if you’re passionate about the end result?

Here’s why what Rath said hit a nerve with me: The entrepreneurial bug hit me at 10 years old and I had a ball and made some cash doing all sorts of fun activities using my “kid charm” to get it done, and then took a hiatus in terms of true implementation until 2003.  I didn’t make a ton of money as a 10 year old, but I was having the time of my life!

Truth be told, when I got back into the entrepreneurial fold in 2003, I made more mistakes than money and didn’t really get into a groove until after I hired a coach in 2004 to show me where I was blocked (one big culprit was the “M” word…no, not ‘marriage,’ silly, ‘marketing’! ;) ).

I was always awesome at academics, technology, teaching, and creating.

Marketing? Not so much. 

But marketing is such a pivotal part of being an entrepreneur. And I’m still not a master at marketing compared to some, but I do know it’s something I have to have my fingers in even if I would prefer to outsource that task.

There were other things my coach and I discovered together back then that was making my road to entrepreneurial success a real challenge–despite entrepreneurialism being a huge passion of mine–and those things are worthy of another blog post some other time.

But let me ask these two questions for now: Should you detach completely from something that is not a natural strength in the overall scheme of things even if you’re really passionate about it (my lack of entrepreneurial mojo in 2003 as an example) or go for it anyway because you’re so determined to succeed at your passion?

And if you decide to go for it (i.e., being an entrepreneur) and find out that the weakness you have is something many experts say you should be a part of anyway–marketing in this case–do you farm it out completely, or do you have a role in it?

What say you?

5 Responses to “Playing to Your Strengths Is Not Always What It is Cracked Up to Be”

  1. Tim Says:

    Hi Carol!

    Great thoughtful post. I just had this conversation with a few basketball coaches the other day about whether or not mediocre players would ever become great players. My vote was yes. Here’s why…

    I truly feel that desire trumps ability. I’ve seen it play out over and over again in athletics and in business. Personally, I am a shy introvert and marketing was never my thing. But, after working at it, learning it, have the willpower to achieve mastery of it… I know make my living with it.

    I also not only work with my clients in providing their marketing materials and planning things out, but also work with them and teach them to do it themselves. So, to answer your questions…

    Always work on your weaknesses and while you can outsource it you should always have a hand in trying it yourself. Incidentally, Rudy is one of my favorite movies.

  2. Kimberlee Says:

    I am all for pushing through your weaknesses and striving to be the best you can be even if it is difficult. Dogged determination can beat out a genius who puts out no effort.

    However, there are times when it is better to outsource areas you are not proficient in. You can still have your own input and even the final say on any project, without having to do the legwork yourself.

    Excellent article! Very thought-provoking.


  3. Gary Patton Says:

    Good stuff, Carol. I agree that Rath’s books are great. I loved his main thesis: Focus on your strengths and work around your weaknesses.

    When I’m called into organizations to train leaders’ staffs in team customer care, however, I teach that PEOPLE DON”T HAVE WEAKNESSES! What many call “weakness” is often simply people demonstrating “over-extended strengths” under increasing levels of dis-stress.

    Your approach to balancing Rath’s thesis with perseverance in areas of one’s passion is wise.


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  4. Carol Dickson-Carr Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Tim, Kimberlee, and Gary! :)


  5. Pebbles Says:

    You’ve hit the ball out the park! Inrecidble!

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